Yes, your GetReligionistas did see that highly provocative piece in USA Today by Rod "friend of this blog" Dreher, the essay that began with this double-deck statement:
Studying voodoo isn't a judgment
Journalists should deal with religion respectfully, of course. But that doesn't mean dismissing the tough questions.
As you can tell by that headline, this article has two purposes.
It starts off with a discussion of how mainstream reporters have been afraid to tiptoe through the minefield that is religion in Haiti, a land in which the status of voodoo is an explosive issue between emerging Protestant churches and the mainstream traditions that blend elements of Catholicism and symbols, rites and beliefs from voodoo. As GetReligion readers know, there are also tensions about voodoo inside the Catholic establishment.
Thus, Dreher asks the following question -- in order to open the door to the issue that is at the heart of his essay:
Did you hear about the Protestant minister who said that Haiti "has been in bondage to the devil for four generations"? No, it wasn't Pat Robertson but Chavannes Jeune, a popular Evangelical pastor in Haiti who has long crusaded to cleanse his nation of what he believes is an ancestral voodoo curse. It turns out that more than a few Haitians agree with Jeune and Robertson that their nation's crushing problems are caused by, yes, voodoo.
I know this not because I read it in a newspaper or saw it on TV, but because of a blog. University of Tennessee-Knoxville cultural anthropologist Bertin M. Louis Jr., an expert on Haitian Protestantism, posted an essay exploring this viewpoint on The Immanent Frame, a social scientist group blog devoted to religion, secularism and the public sphere.
So what is the larger issue here? Why did reporters ignore or shun this perfectly valid story about tensions inside Haiti, leaving it up to academia to dig into this topic that is closely linked to debates about the troubled land's future?
That's where, literally, GetReligion enters the picture. You see, Dreher is openly singing our song and he knows it (and says so):
As a religious believer and professional journalist for 20 years, time and time again I've seen journalists who fail to get the dictum set down by the indispensable media criticism blog GetReligion.org: "It's impossible for journalists to understand how things work in the real world if they do not take religion seriously."
Here's why. In his influential 1948 book Ideas Have Consequences, Richard Weaver identified a person's "metaphysical dream of the world" -- that is, the way the world works at its most basic level -- as the foundation of one's thoughts and conduct. This is the realm of religion -- or of no religion at all, because scientific materialism offers its own particular view of the structure of reality.
A culture's metaphysical dream tells us a lot about its strengths and weaknesses. One is not required to make a theological judgment about voodoo -- or any other religion -- to explore the connection between its metaphysical tenets and the world it has made among its believers. A world in which most people believe that reality is governed by the occult caprice of the gods will be a very different place than a world in which people believe events can be explained according to either a Christian or a scientific materialist metaphysic.
We didn't pay him to say that, or even plead for him to do so, but we're glad that this concept was aired in a place where mainstream readers and journalists have a chance to read about it and, perhaps, even debate it.
Let's do the same. Please consider this an open thread on Dreher's piece, but let's place the emphasis on debating his argument about religion and the news -- not the role of voodoo in Haiti. Stay on the subject at hand, which is, of course, the entire reason that this weblog exists (and we said that on Day 1).
By the way, Dreher is no longer at the Dallas Morning News. He is now director of publications at the John Templeton Foundation, while continuing to run a tweaked version of his old weblog at Beliefnet.com.